Israel to let tour groups in for 1st time since pandemic began, starting May 23

‘It’s time Israel’s unique advantage as a safe and healthy country starts to assist’ in the recovery of its economy, says tourism minister; PCR and antibody tests required

Illustrative: Taglit Birthright participants visit at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 18, 2014 (Flash90)
Illustrative: Taglit Birthright participants visit at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 18, 2014 (Flash90)

A limited number of vaccinated tourists will be allowed to enter Israel in organized groups starting May 23, the Health Ministry and Tourism Ministry said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in the statement that only groups will be allowed to visit at first as they will be easier to monitor. Individual travelers are expected to be allowed in at a later stage.

“It is time that Israel’s unique advantage as a safe and healthy country starts to assist it in recovering from the economic crisis,” said Farkash-Hacohen in the statement. “Only opening the skies for international tourism will truly revive the tourism industry, including restaurants, hotels, sites, tour guides, buses and others looking to work and provide for their families.”

Tourists will be required to take a PCR coronavirus test before boarding a plane to Israel. Upon arrival in Israel, they will have to take both a PCR test and a serological test, which proves the existence of antibodies.

Blue and White party member Orit Farkash Hacohen votes during the Arrangements Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, January 13, 2020 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The statement said Israel will continue to negotiate with countries over mutual recognition of vaccination certificates to remove the need for serological tests.

Last week an unnamed senior health official told the Kan public broadcaster that recognition of vaccinations performed in other countries was complicated by political sensitivities surrounding countries that have deployed vaccines that Israel has not authorized.

The report gave the United Arab Emirates, where a Chinese vaccine is used, and nations using Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine as examples.

Last March, as the pandemic ramped up in Israel and around the world, Jerusalem banned nearly all foreigners from entering the country — a step at the time considered extreme but later also taken by many other countries as the virus raged across the globe.

Passengers walk in the arrivals hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport on March 8, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel registered a drop of some 81 percent in tourism in 2020 compared to the previous year amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Tourism Ministry said in January.

Now hopes of a resurgent tourism industry have been raised by Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign, which many believe will make the country an attractive destination for tourists.

Last week, the Population and Immigration Authority announced that foreigners who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, and who have first-degree relatives in Israel, will be able to enter the country to visit them. Visitors are permitted to enter with their partners and children. Israeli citizens or permanent residents and their families whose “center of life” is abroad may also come to Israel to visit first-degree relatives.

Before this change, foreigners were only permitted to travel into Israel under rare extenuating circumstances, such as to receive essential medical treatment, to attend a funeral of a first-degree relative, or for humanitarian reasons, among others.

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